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Draw a Line on Gambling

Gov. Gray Davis’ declared opposition to any dramatic increase in Nevada-style gambling on Indian lands in California, particularly in urban areas, faces a severe test. Congress has passed, and President Clinton has signed, an omnibus bill enabling a landless 200-member tribe to open a casino in San Pablo, a suburban San Francisco town alongside Interstate 80.

The next step for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, whose base is Sonoma County, north of San Francisco Bay, is to negotiate with the state for a gambling compact. The Lyttons are opposed by gambling foes and card room and race track operators who see the casino as a threat to their own business. Despite Davis’ concerns, tribal legal experts believe he will have no choice but to grant a compact to the Lyttons similar to those signed with 60 other tribes throughout the state.

Most casinos opened or planned after passage of an Indian gambling ballot initiative in 1998 are on existing reservation lands in rural areas, though several large casinos are planned in Palm Springs and San Diego County. The Lytton Band was dissolved in the late 1950s and its reservation eliminated under a federal policy of assimilation of tribes into the general population. Thus, the Lytton Band plans to buy an existing card club on a 10-acre plot. An amendment by Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) to the Omnibus Indian Advancement Act clears the way for the purchase and for the Department of the Interior to hold the land in trust for the tribe. If the Lyttons succeed, other tribes probably will attempt to do the same.

Card clubs and race tracks vowed to oppose the Lytton bid for a casino compact--either that or seek legislation to allow slot machines at clubs and tracks. In any event, the state may soon be embroiled in “a gambling arms race,” as one opponent put it.

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A gambling boom is already underway. The more Indian casinos there are, the more difficult it will be to say no to the card clubs and the tracks that want to expand their fare. Davis failed to draw a firm line when he negotiated the first tribal casino compacts. His challenge now is to find a fair and reasonable way to declare that the spread of casino gambling will go no further.


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